JAKARTA, Indonesia – His coach had a heart attack and couldn’t travel. He had to take three school exams in an embassy under close scrutiny of two government officials flown in to Jakarta to supervise.
And after all that, in the event where he was contending for an Asian Games medal, a teammate dived too early and Sri Lanka was disqualified from the heats in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay on Wednesday morning.
It has been a testing time indeed for Akalanka Peiris.
“This week was so, so hectic for me,” said Peiris, who had to skip the opening ceremony last weekend because of his tight testing schedule — both academic and physical.
Still, the 18-year-old student from St. Peter’s College in Colombo said he’d rather be here than anywhere else.
When the timetable clash became apparent between his exams and the Asian Games, Peiris decided it would be better to take the tests. His rationale was that even if he put them off for a year, some other sports event could crop up then. Also, he figured, he’d be a more competitive swimmer in four years at next Asian Games.
“I chose the exam,” he said. “After that, the Olympic committee wanted me to swim the relay because we had a bronze medal prospect.”
That’s how Sri Lanka’s national Olympic committee got involved. After high-level negotiations, the committee worked out a way for Peiris to become the first Sri Lankan student to take the tests while abroad.
It came at a cost — two extra airfares and accommodation for the “invigilators” — exam proctors — from the Sri Lankan examination department. Plus space had to be found at the Sri Lankan embassy for him to take the tests for English, general knowledge, and economics.
“The people really supported me very well,” Peiris said. “English and general knowledge was easy for me. The accounting paper was the difficult one, but I made it.”
The first test was Saturday and his last test was Monday, right after he’d placed fourth in his heat of the 50-meter backstroke.
Peiris said he’d had so much support from the delegation and the local organizers, and was only sorry his regular coach Manoj Abeysinghe — father of two of his relay teammates Matthew and Kyle Abeysinghe — had health problems last week.
“Manoj was going to come, but four or five days before he had a heart attack,” Peiris said. “We missed him a lot.”
The Sri Lankans posted a competitive time that would have earned them a spot in the final, but was rubbed out after the narrowly illegal change.
“We did a great job. We went our PBs, but unfortunately a small mistake had big repercussions,” he said. “We missed the opportunity to get the bronze medal.
“But it’s OK. We’ll work on it (and) we’ll do something in the South Asian Games and next Asian Games as well.”
In the immediate future are more events — the 50-meter butterfly and the 200 backstroke — then thinking about university and more swimming either in the United States or Australia.